Wednesday, June 8, 2011


--There is a big tree right across the street from the house that always has at least a few and sometimes many small, white cherry blossom-like flowers. One drizzly day when occasional petals were spiraling toward the ground I watched a small barefoot boy dancing back and forth under the tree, looking upwards, catching and eating the falling blossoms in his mouth.

--La Rubia tells me that the tree with the little white flowers is called a roble and that it is good for nothing but making a mess with its constant shedding of flowers, and shade which means that her house always has a bunch of lazy tigueres sitting in front of it. But as she pointed to a machete gash in the trunk she added that the bark, which is very bitter, is used to make a tea which pregnant women drink just before giving birth, or giving the light as they say in Spanish.

--Early this morning while walking with Altagracia to the bus stop a barefoot  woman dressed in a dirty white knit dress stopped us and pointed to a lumpy burlap sack closed with a knot at the top and abandoned near the side of the road and excitedly explained that there was a dead dog in it and that it stank.

--People walking by the house frequently sing snatches of popular songs. The phrases I hear most these days translate as-- “I like the gasoline, give me some gasoline”, “Lean back mama, lean back”, “Bad bird, bad bird” and  “I love this darned thing”.

--I can´t think of any way to verify this, but I think that Dominicans accidentally drop more things than North Americans like fruit in supermarkets, cell phones in guaguas, plates and glasses in the kitchen, small change, earrings and I don't know why this might be true. It may be that I only notice this because in my house, which has all concrete floors, every cup, glass, plate, bottle and bowl that is dropped breaks so these events are memorable. As I just finished writing that last sentence Jhoanglish walked past and dropped his comb.

--There is much public spitting and picking of noses but gas emitted from either end at any time is considered rude.

--It seems to be considered de rigeur for some men to maintain a grasp on their crotches while walking and men of any age may make blatant adjustments in this area in public. Women may spontaneously adjust or pat into place the breasts of other women, or their own, and may reach inside to do so.

-- La Rubia is plucking white chickens across the street,  their feathers pink with their own blood after  having their throats cut. She is sitting on a broken cement block and when she lobs each plucked chicken into the shell of a nearby overturned chest freezer it makes a hollow clang. There is a gallery of two cats, a dog which appears to be part corgi and basset hound and a bunch of loose chickens nearby paying close attention waiting for the offal to be tossed their way. At night the loose chickens roost high up in the big tree with the little white flowers and one of them is a rooster who is missing the end of his right wing. Twice I have witnessed him fall out of the tree-- first there were about 4 seconds of desperate flapping as he crashed unseen down through the leaves and small branches and then he cleared the bottom of the canopy and free fell for eight feet and hit the street with a soft thud, picked himself up, looked around to get his bearings and then ran back up the trunk flapping his wings furiously to help climb.

--While the streets may be filthy, the people are not. Seven people can wedge themselves into an un-airconditioned Toyota Corolla at 4 PM on a 90 degree day in slow city traffic and everybody still smells great after a half hour. I have an aunt who, while in nursing school, learned to inspect ears in Washington Heights in New York City, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood, and, after inspecting the ears of Dominican women for 3 months was moved to a different borough and was horrified when she first saw the piles of detritus in the ears of native New Yorkers. Altagracia cleans hers often and deeply, uses bobby pins and leaves no residue behind.

--An old mango pit with plenty of fibers still attached and a rat each flattened in the road look the same but the pit never has a tail.

--My cocker spaniel's name is Chloë and she is better known in the neighborhood than I am. Early the other morning as Chloë and I were walking back to the house from the bus stop down a still deserted side street and still blocks from the house, a motorcycle comes speeding up behind us and flies by with La Rubia on the back, dressed all in red to match her hair color of the night before, returning home from the disco and she is clutching three live, white chickens by the legs in each hand and she is yelling ChloëChloëChloëChloëChloëChloëChloëChloëChloëChloë and the bike is going fast enough so that the frequency is higher as she approaches than as she disappears around the bend in the street ahead like the Doppler effect of a passing train whistle.

The Papa of Titi chiseling concrete across the street; the ear splitting blast of the air horn of the garbage truck; murmurs of conversation between La Rubia and chicken buying customers; an approaching motor scooter with a bad muffler; many chirping house sparrows in the big tree across the street; a subdued groaning sound as the breeze sways the neighbor´s mango tree which rubs on the metal roof of the galleria; the clucking of chickens; men´s voices talking with the Papa of Titi as he works; another motorcycle with another leaky exhaust; Chindón, a local hipster greets Jhoanglish with the hipster greeting of ¿Que lo que? which is popularly translated as Wasssup? and Jhoanglish answers with the formula answer of Tranquilito or Really calm, man; a mingling of distant radio bachata from the south with a romantic ballad from the east; the sounds of recess at the day care center from around the corner; some barking from the house right next door and then the quick whistle of a broomstick through the air and the shrill kee-yidling of the dog it hit.

            While standing on the galleria one morning I casually asked Jhoanglish where he was headed that day and he pointed up the hill beyond La Rubia's little pink house and said he was going up that way. A few days later when, again from the galleria, I asked him where he was going he pointed in the exact same direction and said down that way and when one is getting directions from someone on the street it works the same way. The person doing the directing may tell you to keep going up (or down) in a certain direction and that up (or down) may be toward the north or the south and it may be back the way you came or where you were headed and it may be toward the center of town or heading out of town or toward the river or away from the river or up the hill or down the hill. Many times the person giving directions will turn, guided by some kind of internal compass, and use their arms, pointing or waving while saying that you then go more that way and then down by there and then all the way up and then there you are!
            If one tells a conchista or a taxi driver to take the next right they will often turn to look at you to see which way you are indicating (if you are on the back of a motorcycle it is advisable to point so the driver can see). That particular right hand turn is not inherently, essentially always a RIGHT HAND TURN in the most absolute sense of the phrase because it always depends on which way you are facing and so it might be more a distrust of abstraction on the part of the driver than not knowing right from left.
            To get to my house you continue straight for about a kilometer and take the first left after the bakery and when I explain the directions that way North Americans always find the house but Dominicans seldom take the right turn, and I do not know why. For a long time I thought that it was only me who was getting it wrong, that there existed some kind of secret but consistent code that everyone else understood and that had perhaps evolved due to the lack of street signs or due to the fact that while there is a high illiteracy rate here, even many of the people who can read tend not to and so the habit develops of navigating as one would while walking through the woods where there are zero street signs so one needs to know to turn by the big tree, or at the two boulders or by the prickly shrubs, but I often see people lost here and I have heard a lot of bad directions given and so I carry a street map with me and a good one is the one by Mapas Gaar and you can always find one in the Thesaurus book store on Sarasota and Abraham Lincoln.

            It had not rained in 6 weeks. Clouds of dust followed trucks and motorcycles up the street and settled everywhere and even a dog or a chicken or a child running could raise up a small rooster tail. At night, even when nothing was stirring it up, you could see the dust in the air through the slanting light of the headlights of standing cars waiting in front of the colmado. Chavela mopped the galleria and the kitchen floors twice a day and then would fling the dirty water out of the bucket in a fan shaped spray onto the street to try to keep the dust down and we would try to keep the persianas closed on the windows to keep the dust out but it would get too hot in the house. If a big Coca-cola or Presidente truck rumbled by on its way to the last colmado the roiled dust could get so thick that, for a moment, you could not even see Titi's house clearly which is just across the street and only two houses down.
The finished paint job.
            But then today it rained for about an hour before lunch. La Rubia fashioned a Hipermercado Olé plastic bag into a shower cap and threw several more plastic bags over the cut up chicken still on her table and sat back down in the rain to wait for customers and a bunch of little kids wearing just underwear came out of nowhere and took baths under the down spouts that drain the water off the flat roofed houses. A girl of about 12 who had been mopping the floor in a marquesina across the street and one house up leaned her mop against the wall and stood in the doorway, half in the rain, and danced slowly in the water running down the sidewalk.
            I had been painting a patio wall of the garden just outside the house with orange paint and the rain came suddenly. I just had time to get the laundry off the line and into the house and put my brush and roller and paint under cover and then there was nothing to do but to sit under the roof of the galleria and watch the drain water that ran off the patio turn oranger and oranger. Niningo and Chavela came home from school just as it was letting up and when I showed them the stained blotchy paint job they each said, “What bad luck.”

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